Rare slip-up for the Kings defence
Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency
|Goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings makes a save against the New Jersey Devils during Game Four of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP)
LOS ANGELES - It's not quite a series, yet.
But if the New Jersey Devils can find a way to win Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night at home at the Prudential Center and make it 3-2 heading back to the Staples Center, well, then it gets interesting.
Standing in the way of that is the fact the Los Angeles Kings are 10-0 on the road this spring and have been through this exact scenario four times now: Jumping out to a 3-0 series lead only to lose three of those Game 4s.
"Go play on the road," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "No big deal."
Except the franchise's first Stanley Cup is now at stake.
Sutter said Thursday he thought the Kings played better in Game 4, which they lost 3-1 Wednesday night, than they did in their 2-1 overtime victory in Game 2. He said his club's approach is pretty simple going into Game 5.
"Continue to play the way we're playing. That's why you play series. Unfortunately, we have some spoiled people who think that everyone wins 16 in a row or something. A little confusing to me."
One of the facets of the Kings game that has them on the cusp of winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history has been the play of their defencemen.
The group has a strong combination of size -- big bodies Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene and Will Mitchell -- and skill with the superlative Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez. There's a guy with a hammer and a guy with a scalpel in each pairing. Curiously, when the opposition Devils were winning their Cups in 2000 and 2003, their defence was built the same way. They had hitter Scott Stevens with puckhandler Brian Rafalski, and Ken Daneyko with Scott Niedermayer.
While a lot of the focus on the Kings' remarkable playoff run has been on goaltender Jonathan Quick -- and rightly so -- the defencemen in front of him have deserved their fair share of credit.
"I think that's a big part that's getting overlooked right now," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "(Quick) is playing great, but I think their 'D' are doing a really good job. They confront you in the neutral zone. They make you dump it in and chip it by them. They box you out really well. They allow Quick to see a lot of the shots. More often than not he's going to stop it when he sees it.
"So I think their D has been just as important to their team as Quick has been."
The Kings defence had a bit of a wobble in Game 4 or at least the connection between the forwards and defence -- the gap, as coaches like to say -- did. The Devils had a little bit more room to create plays off the rush. The defensive combination of Mitchell and Voynov got caught flat-footed on the winner scored by the Devils' Adam Henrique. The Kings forwards were too far into the neutral zone when the puck got going the other way. Henrique got between forward Jarret Stoll and away from Voynov. It shouldn't have been that bad a situation, but a great individual play by Henrique -- kicking the pass from David Clarkson up to his stick and then a great shot -- resulted in the goal.
When asked Thursday what he liked about the Kings' game, forward Justin Williams said: "Well, what I liked is our power play moved around pretty good. We had ample opportunities to score and get ourselves a lead. We weren't able to do it. The power play's going well.
"On the other side of it, I don't think we were as good as we could be in the neutral zone, defending the rush. We're going to get better at those."